Karima Francis – an interview
For those who are unaware of this great, young and passionate talent, Karima Francis is a singer/songwriter from Blackpool on the verge of her second album’s release.
Her first album, The Author was a debut that struck the hearts of many across the country. Such emotion laid bare from someone with so little experience was a beautiful and fresh approach to songwriting that was much needed in the industry at the time, with comparisons likening her strong and passionate vocals of enormous range to that of Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading. Following a powerful and raw performance on Jools Holland, unfortunately her career failed to propel as she would have hoped. Taking a break from music for over a year, she came back to play again and to now finish recording the album that will give her what she hopes will be her second chance.
Arriving early on a miserable Monday morning at The Galley CafÃÂ© in Blackpool, Karima Francis certainly looks the part with her Hendrix-esque hair do and her long brown coat just covering the top of her skinny jeans. A quiet cafÃÂ© in the centre of the seaside resort is the perfect setting for a casual conversation with the singer.
Upon mentioning her forthcoming album, she seems full of visible excitement and anticipation, “We’ve just finished mixing it last week. It was pretty intense. I’ve been staying in the studio for the whole of it and sleeping in the library and no one really does that, but I just couldn’t leave because I got so addicted because having the chance to do another record, I just wanted to completely commit myself to it. So I wanted to be”Â¦ in it. So that made it pretty intense from the moment I opened my eyes to the moment I went to sleep. We were working from nine right through until two or three in the morning. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.”Â Karima looks at me right in the eyes as she’s telling me this and it would be clear to anyone that she is so passionate about her work. It seems as if at the age of 24 she’s finally maturing into the musician she has always longed to be and has established the sound she truly believes in, “I’ve created my dream record. Some of the songs on there are the sound that I’ve been going for since I first started writing.”Â
To add to the passion and self belief that Karima Francis shows at present time, she has the backing of a world class record producer, Mark Ellis, otherwise known by his professional pseudonym of Flood. Flood has worked with top class musicians from day one, showing his talents engineering on New Order’s debut, Movement and moving onto producing albums for musical icons, such as Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails, to name just a few. He’s been described as an inspirational producer, a man who pushes boundaries without forcing them and guiding the musicians he works with to their greatest and maximum potential. The fact that Francis will be added to his extensive and impressive list of artists he has produced for so far is not only exciting for her current supporters but is also a surreal experience for her. “He must work with artists and like help them develop because he’s done the PJ Harvey records and the U2 stuff. It is weird.”Â
Having approached Flood, they originally planned on working towards a live EP which was eventually completed. “We listened to it and it was good, but having been away from music for so long I felt like I wanted something bigger and Flood just wanted to go all out. So then in the studio it’s all based around live recordings. Having recorded it live first, you get that real energy, that real emotion.”Â Karima is a truly phenomenal vocalist and being able to lay down the emotion of her live performances onto an album is definitely a big deal. Having the backing of such a great producer who can push her to translate that onto record, is something incredibly valuable indeed. “Flood’s great. There was one morning when we were up all night and I went to get breakfast and I left him a list and all it said was ”ËMake the cellos sound sweet, bring up the vocals so that they’re epic but not overpowering the song and so they grow in distance, and the vocal reverb, I want it to fall here’, I can talk to him metaphorically like this. He sent it me back later in the day. I listened to it and I didn’t even have to think because it was just the way I heard it in my head.”Â
As far as the album goes, presuming you’re familiar with her existing material, you can expect a very similar sound, “It’s still very much me. I haven’t done anything outrageous,”Â she laughs “but the tracks on the album have been made to sound bigger, but they’re still simplistic. There are some very intimate tracks on the album. There’s one track called ”ËGood, Bad and Ugly’ and it’s the smallest song but it’s made to sound so big!”Â Intimacy is a very important aspect of Karima’s music, with her live performances managing to be a very emotional occasion indeed. “The most intimate parts are very very intimate. There are parts where I’m there with you. I’m almost crying in your face. Then the big moments are just massive ”â no big string sections. It’s just made to sound that way.”Â
One thing you can certainly expect is her laying down her emotions for all to hear, which must create a perfect songwriting method for a sound so subtle and emotional. This is perhaps due to the truth of the music. Lyrically she manages to tell stories of her own life and the problems that seem to be troubling her mind. Karima Francis is willing to completely expose her soul and bare all, going into extraordinary emotional depth. She’s a rare talent who offers something different, something fresh and totally immerses herself in her material. Francis presents herself with an extraordinary work ethic and brightens up the room with her personality full of beaming enthusiasm and commitment.
“There’s a song called ”ËWherever I Go’, I actually wrote that when I was in America, but I’m talking about going out there and I’d been away from my family and I’m missing everyone around me, but I’m going out there to work to get back what I once left off.”Â Her voice breaks slightly, “I had to take some time out because I got really poorly. I’d genuinely thought I was going to lose everything. I kind of feel like I have in some respects because I do actually feel like I’m starting all over again.”Â It’s apparent to anyone who would talk to Karima about this topic that she’s thoroughly grateful for what she has and has a deep love and adoration for her music. She’s so reliant on achieving her life’s dreams and goals and she wants people to admire the record just as much as she does herself.
“It’s really hard now, because I don’t see myself as anything cool or anything. I just know the record is really unique and there’s nothing else out there at the minute like that. I believe in it so much and I never believed in the first one like this. For it to be ignored would really upset me.”Â She’s visibly nervous and seems to be increasingly buzzing with anticipation. This album could make or break Karima and she sees this as her chance to shine and show people she still has something special. She wants people to know what she still has it in her to prove that she really is a valuable and gifted new artist and that her next record is without a doubt not something to be ignored. “I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m nervous because I want my dream and I want that success that I’ve wanted from the start with this album. I’m just so scared it won’t happen. I know there’s a harsh reality with things though. I have to prepare myself for that”Â
In her own words, “If you enjoy melody, if you enjoy emotion, if you enjoy real life stories then this album is for you.”Â Karima Francis is a kind, wonderful, down to earth woman with incredibly endearing and genuine qualities that I see rarely in people. The emotion and passion just talking about her music had me sat opposite her with shivers down my spine. You can’t help but feel she deserves this more than anyone. Having bounced back from adversity over the past few years she’s back to get what she should have had after her jaw-dropping performance on Jools Holland. Her forthcoming album, ”ËThe Remedy’, out later this year, is a tale of a young musician building herself back up from scratch and is certainly a record to be excited about.